Eleven people crawled semi-naked into a dark claustrophobic cave during last month’s triannual Nuit des Bains in Geneva’s contemporary art quarter. The inaugural exhibition at Galerie Laurence Bernard (formerly BTW Gallery) features an interactive site-specific installation, Antre (Lair) by Les Frères Chapuisat.
Upon entering the gallery, viewers encounter a hole of 30 square centimetres cut into the wall. It is both an invitation and “a rite of initiation” for adventurers. To date, more than 100 brave explorers of all ages have shed their clothing and burrowed in. Alone in the cramped tunnel, participants wriggle through a winding maze that leads to a cave filled with wet clay. One participant named Desmond said the experience was “momentarily unnerving and quite a lot of work. But I really enjoyed it. In particular, reaching the clay pit was perfectly refreshing… the environment felt kind of like a womb.”
The artists are nomadic carpenters who often go on mountain expeditions for inspiration—Antre is based on a cave they explored in the Alps. The installation is constructed from ten cubic metres of wood and ten tonnes of locally mined red clay. Construction took a month and a half, during which the artists lived in the gallery. Living and working in situ is part of their process. They partitioned the space and built living quarters and a shower.
While most art exhibitions are static, Antre is composed of organic matter that shifts from one moment to the next. The project is a comprehensive spatial investigation: the inbuilt structures subdivide the space; the artists live and work in the space; the participants occupy a private space; and the audience observes a body penetrating the space. Viewers wait, often for a long time, until at last a body reemerges from the hole.
The Chapuisat Brothers are prolific exhibitors. They have three exhibitions this month, including the major International Contemporary Art Fair (or FIAC) in Paris. Nevertheless, “Our family lives in Geneva,” they laughed, “We were stressed about showing in our family town.”
On opening night, the crowd was apprehensive. “At first it was slow. The first half hour was scary,” the artists said, “But then the fan club came. Two guys got naked and went in. It was very messy… the crowd clapped for them. So the visitors became actors and then they became stars, creating the total scene. We had no control. We just built the stage.”
“I’m a fan of their work,” says gallerist Laurence Bernard, “They often perform institutionally, so it’s interesting to have them in a private gallery. My programming is an exploration of the space, so for me, their practice is very coherent.” Antre is on view at Galerie Laurence Bernard in Quartier des Bains until 18 October.
Stephanie Twiggs is an art reviewer and writer.